By John Eliyas
My father wasn’t big, physically, only 5’3” and 135 lbs. He didn’t graduate from high school. Most of his life he worked as a machinist in a foundry. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to understand there was a deeper current running through him. I grew up in a northern Ohio town on the lake. My father worked the night shift; my mom was a home-maker. We didn’t have much, but my folks managed to send my two sisters and me to parochial school. We had what we needed, sometimes what we wanted. One weekend, when I was 8, my dad and I visited my uncle Joe on Catawba Island, we then took a leisurely drive to Port Clinton and Camp Perry. This was my first introduction to the matches . . .
Wow, was I impressed! Steely-eyed soldiers shooting off hand with .45s. Wind was whipping off Lake Erie, often to the detriment of the marksmen. The loud reports of weapons firing down range. This, to an eight year old, was almost an infinite distance to the target: “Dad, how can they hit it so far away?” He would just smile and keep walking, talking to a few of the men.
Before we left we stopped and paused at the memorial for the 192nd Tank battalion, Co. C. The Plaque, shaped like the State of Ohio was placed on the plaza as a tribute to members of Company C, 192nd Tank Battalion on the forty-fourth anniversary, in 1984, of their mobilization. Thirty-two of the forty-two men who left Port Clinton for Fort Knox, Kentucky in November 1940 were with the unit on the Bataan Peninsula. Only a few survived the Bataan Death March and 3 1/2 years as Prisoners of War.
He traced his bother Steve’s name on the plaque. We then drove home, for the most part in silence.
As I grew older I learned a few things about my dad. He enlisted at 17 in the Army. He fought in the European theater from D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge, but was captured by Germans in a small village in France. He was liberated by the British at the end of the war.
He re-enlisted and found himself in the Pacific, too late to save his brother who died of dysentery at Camp Cabanatuan. Ending up with MacArthur in Japan, he joined the 11th Airborne, 505 PIR.
Eventually he found himself in the Korean theater. He was awarded three Bronze Stars with oak clusters for valor. Wounded twice, he received two Purple Hearts and the 505 was awarded two Congressional Unit Citations. He was an expert marksman in rifle, submachine gun and hand grenade. He taught me to shoot one handed.
When I turned 30 he gave me his .45. He carried it in two wars and receiving it was a humbling experience. I have shot it many times, but now it comes out of the safe only rarely. It is one of my most prized possessions.
I must say however, that my father was so much more than a soldier. He loved life and loved to laugh, often telling me that he got bucked down to corporal on more than one occasion. He was a father, brother, husband and son. He epitomized the greatest generation.
On this Memorial Day I ask my fellow TTAGers to remember him as well as those who came before and after. Unassuming, he plugged away for most of his civilian life as a machinist, never boasting about his war years. I had thirteen more years with my dad after he gave me his 1911, and I miss him to this day.